The Pick List - Week 2

Smith Center's Jake Sasse (5) runs against Phillipsburg last week. (photo by Jacque Bretton)
By: Conor Nicholl & Matt Gilmore for
Sep 7, 2022

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Each Thursday throughout the regular season, The Pick List will feature a few of the best match-ups across the state, and make our predictions on a handful of other games.

Feature Games of the Week:

4A No. 2 St. Thomas Aquinas (1-0) at 6A No. 1 Blue Valley Northwest (1-0)

This week’s marquee matchup in the Eastern Kansas League pits Class 4A No. 2 St. Thomas Aquinas against 6A No. 1 Blue Valley Northwest.

Northwest, the defending 6A champion, moved up to the top spot in the 6A rankings this week after Derby’s loss to Manhattan.

The Huskies opened with a 35-21 victory over defending 4A champion, St. James Academy. In that game, Northwest senior Grant Stubblefield rushed for 283 yards and two touchdowns on 39 attempts. He also hauled in a short touchdown reception from senior quarter back Connor White. White passed for 169 yards and three scores, including two to Gavin Hoffman, but was intercepted three times.

White has the tough task of trying to replace all-class standout Mikey Pauley who graduated last year. Pauley passed for 1,945 yards and 23 touchdowns and added 1,214 rushing yards and 22 scores last season. The Huskies finished 12-1, throttling Derby 41-21 in the 6A title game.

The only blemish on Blue Valley Northwest’s 2021 season was a 35-16 loss to St. Thomas Aquinas back in Week 7. In that game, Aquinas controlled things on the ground with 297 yards rushing on 48 attempts. Sean Carroll led the attack that night with 115 yards on 25 carries, while Jack Forge added 100 yards and touchdown, and Gianni Rizzi rushed for 88 yards and three scores.

Carroll, Forge, and Rizzi all return as part of a loaded Saints backfield for 2022. Last week, Aquinas opened with a 31-7 win over then 6A No. 4 Blue Valley West. The Saints rushed for 359 yards led by Carroll (105), Rizzi (104), and Forge (97).

Aquinas was forced to replace quarterback Maxxwell Ford after he transferred to Lee’s Summit North. Seniors Mac Bishop and Dylan Webb combined to complete 3 of 3 passes for 49 yards, including Bishop’s touchdown pass to Forge last week.

The key to this game will be Northwest’s ability to run the ball with Stubblefield behind that experienced Husky line that includes Aidan Behymer, Easton Wasinger, and Joel Deppe against a quality Aquinas defensive front. The Huskies will have to get off to a good start because Aquinas is not a team you want to have to play catch-up against.

Our Pick: Northwest 24, Aquinas 21 (Gilmore)

5A No. 2 Maize (1-0) at Andover Central (1-0)

This is the first-ever meeting between the two schools. Maize enjoyed the best season in school history with a 5A state runner-up finish to Mill Valley – the three-time defending champion. Andover Central finished as runners-up in 4A to St. James Academy.

Andover Central was second in 4A with 12.4 points allowed per game and set a school record. The Jaguars were fifth in 4A offense with 34 points a game. Andover Central has three state runner-up finishes in the last six years.

Maize finished 10-3 and was eighth in 5A offense with 35.2 points per game. The Eagles allowed 21.8 points, No. 12 in 5A.

Last week, Andover Central defeated Buhler (35-13) for the third time in the Jaguars last 13 games. In a game played last Saturday, Maize blasted Topeka High, 78-7.

Maize has its well-known offensive quartet of quarterback Avery Johnson, running back Daeshaun Carter, and wide receivers Bryce Cohoon and Justin Stephens.

Johnson is well-known as Kansas’ top recruit and a K-State commit. Cohoon is headed to Syracuse, and Carter rushed for 1,198 yards last season.

Maize rolled over Topeka behind 260 offensive yards and four TDs accounted for from Johnson. Bryson Hayes enjoyed a breakout game with three catches for 141 yards and two scores. Junior lineman Cole Chalashtari (6-5, 275) is a budding star recruit for the Class of 2024.

Andover Central sits outside the top-5 in the Class 4A rankings, though is a program that has a tendency to outperform their rankings, including ’15, ’19, ’20.

The Jaguars took big graduation losses, though had multiple breakout players in Week 1. Senior Braden Barscewski completed 7 of 12 passing for 231 yards with four scores against zero interceptions. Senior Jace Rees had 15 carries for 88 yards. Senior Cooper Tabor is an elite player in all three phases and finished with three catches for 138 yards, all for scores. Central’s defense delivered five TFLs.

The Jags have one of the state’s top specialists with Isaac Saye. Andover Central will keep this game close and low scoring, and the upset is possible. However, Maize might be Kansas’ best offense.

Andover Central has allowed more than 28 points just once in the its last 21 games.

Our Pick: Maize 28, Andover Central 17 (Nicholl)

3A No. 5 Rock Creek (0-1) at 1A No. 1 St. Marys (1-0)

You would be hard pressed to find a more difficult schedule to open a season than that of Rock Creek.  The Mustangs fell 38-26 at 2A No. 1 Southeast of Saline last week and now will travel to take on the No. 1 team in Class 1A, the St. Marys Bears.

The game will feature two of the top small school quarterbacks in the state in Rock Creek’s Dalton Whitworth and St. Marys’ Keller Hurla.

Whitworth passed for 2,894 yards and 38 touchdowns a season ago and returns several key offensive weapons. Ethan Burgess, Daegen Vinduska, and Yanci Spiller each return at wideout, while Jaydon Winans returns in the backfield. Burgess hauled in 61 catches for 1,030 yards and 11 scores a season ago. Vinduska added 673 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns, while Spiller contributed 531 yards and nine scores. Winans rushed for 645 yards and 9 touchdowns.

Whitworth passed for 225 yards and three touchdowns in the loss to Southeast of Saline. He connected with Burgess six times for 125 yards and two touchdowns, while Logan Sturdy caught the third touchdown pass.

Winans rushed for nearly 90 yards for the Mustangs. The Rock Creek defense struggled to slow Southeast of Saline’s ground attack. The Trojans rushed for more than 270 yards on the night.

St. Marys defeated two-time defending champion Rossville, 20-13. Rossville had won 26 consecutive games. Hurla passed for more than 250 yards and three touchdowns in the game and connected on touchdown passes to Abe Huaracha, Michael Gallegos, and Nate Hurley.

A standout athlete, Hurla passed for 1,581 yards and 15 touchdowns last season as the Bears finished 5-4. He also led the team with 450 yards rushing and 11 scores.

Both teams are extremely talented and will be a factor in their respective classifications.

Our Pick: Rock Creek 28, St. Marys 27 (Gilmore)

3A No. 3 Topeka Hayden (1-0) at 2A No. 5 Silver Lake (1-0)

Topeka Hayden will continue a season-opening schedule against traditional small-school powers with a trip to Silver Lake. Hayden defeated two-time defending 1A champion Olpe last week, 21-7, and will host two-time defending 2A champion Rossville next week.

The Wildcats were locked in a scoreless battle with Olpe until late in the first half when an Eagle fumble on a punt return set up Hayden in good field position. JC Cummings then punched in a 20-yard touchdown run a few plays later for a 7-0 lead.

Hayden extended its lead to 14-0 in the third quarter on a Jett Wahlmeier touchdown pass to Jensen Schrickel. The Wildcats later scored in the fourth as Ethan Florance took a pitch down the left sideline for an 83-yard score.

The Hayden offense rushed for more than 225 yards and Wahlmeier added 120 yards passing. The story was the Wildcat defense which held Olpe to less than 100 yards on the ground and forced three total turnovers.

Silver Lake opened the post-C.J. Hamilton era with a 28-21 victory over Riley County. Hamilton, the state’s all-time winningest coach with a 447-98 record, retired this spring with former Eagle player Logan Pegram taking over.

In the win over Riley County, Eagle quarterback Tanner Martin rushed for three touchdowns and passed for another. Martin's short touchdown run just before halftime put Silver Lake on top, 21-14. He added a touchdown pass in the third quarter to give the Eagles a two-score lead.

Martin is a dual-threat at quarterback and his ability to make plays will be crucial against a tough Hayden defense.

Our Pick: Hayden 20, Silver Lake 14 (Gilmore)

1A No. 5 St. Mary’s Colgan (1-0) at Girard (1-0)

These two CNC schools both delivered quality, close victories in Week 1. Girard won at Columbus, 20-15. Colgan was coming off the first losing season since 1997. The Panthers dropped from 2A and 1A and opened as a top-five team this season. The Panthers delivered on the high expectations with a 14-12 victory against rival Frontenac, the defending 3A runner-up.

Girard has enjoyed a great turnaround under Neal Philpot, a former All-American quarterback at Pittsburg State. The Trojans won 17 games in four years before a 10-1 mark, the best season since 1999. Girard went from minus-20 in turnover margin in ’20 to plus 11 last year.

Girard has a few edges against Colgan. First, the Trojans have more than twice as many students. Girard has an elite player 6-foot-4, 200-pound senior quarterback Luke Niggemann. He has a Pittsburg State offer after he accounted for more than 1,700 yards of total offense a season ago. Girard is highly experienced up front with seniors Cordell Searan, Ryan Jarboe, Arrick Williams and Justin Ferguson. Alex Coester and Ethan Davidson are key offensive weapons.

Colgan standout Tucker Harrell made the move from wide receiver to quarterback for this season. He completed 5 of 11 passes for 33 yards with zero scores against one interception in the opener. Harrell also rushed 16 times for 74 yards and two scores. Junior Cooper Simmons, last season’s leading rusher and tackler, delivered 19 carries for 92 yards. Harrell led with 13 stops, while junior Connor VanBecelaere recorded 11 stops. Colgan has not started 2-0 since 2018 when it finished 9-3.

Girard won 20-12 in ’20 and 33-7 last year. This game should be close, but the Trojans likely have the edge in depth, especially up front, and have one of Class 3A’s best all-around players in Niggemann.

Our Pick: Girard 28, Colgan 14 (Nicholl)

1A No. 2 Smith Center (1-0) at Norton (1-0)

One of the state’s most historic rivalries will take place at Norton’s iconic Travis Field in a Mid-Continent League game. Smith Center is 9-4 in the last 13 meetings between the two schools. However, the home team is 11-2 in those 13 contests, including Norton with a 4-2 home mark. The home team has won the last three games.

This is probably the best regular season matchup for either squad. Smith Center and Norton have played each other every season for 35-plus years. This is generally a low-scoring game. Two years ago, Norton beat Smith Center, 16-14, in Week 1 when Smith Center was a top-five team.

One of the state’s key questions surrounded Smith Center senior Jake Sasse, a standout running back/linebacker with a pair of NAIA offers. Sasse enjoyed a huge sophomore season and missed his junior year with injury. Sasse was hurt again this summer, though played Week 1 with a big club cast on his hand.

The Redmen opened with a 29-21 victory against Mid-Continent League rival Phillipsburg. Sasse rushed 16 times for 103 yards and a score. Junior Luke Franklin had 11 carries for 136 yards and two TDs. Smith Center rushed for 304 yards and delivered 357 total yards on 45 plays. Junior Eli Franklin had nine tackles, while Sasse had five stops with a tackle for loss.

Norton beat conference foe Plainville, 37-17. The Bluejays return senior linebackers Sean Anderson and Silas Jones. Norton went 4-5 in ’21, including a three-overtime victory and a one-point win. Anderson is 6-foot-4, 230 and entered this year with 240 tackles. This game is going to be really close, and Sasse’s health gives Smith Center a slight edge.

Our Pick: Smith Center 22, Norton 20 (Nicholl)

Meade (1-0) at Hodgeman County (1-0)

Meade is the defending Eight-Man, Division I state champion and has won 16 straight games, the longest current winning streak in eight-man football. Meade was second in Division I with 12.2 points allowed a contest.

Hodgeman County finished 4-5 in Division I last season and was No. 10 in scoring defense with 25.7 points per game. The Longhorns drop down to Division II and sit just outside the top-5 in the classification. Hodgeman County’s 2021 season ended a streak of 11 straight winning seasons, including two state runner-up finishes.

Meade won this match-up, 54-8, in Week 8 last year. The Buffaloes opened with a 48-0 road win against South Central last week. Meade took major graduation losses at the skill positions, though returns LB Brayden Norris, lineman Brady Papay, and standout receivers Brock Keith and Grayden Stapleton. Norris paced Meade with 128 tackles a season ago.

Hodgeman County won, 58-16, against South Gray. The Longhorn offense put up 424 total yards. Owen Reece, a terrific basketball player, stepped up as quarterback with 20 of 31 passing for 276 yards and two scores. Reece had 18 carries for 102 yards and two TDs. Reece played in seven games with 344 passing and 55 rushing. Reece is an exceptional athlete and should help Hodgeman County to an improved season.

This is a good measuring stick for Hodgeman County, which could be a contender in Division II. However, Meade has excellent defense along with more talent and experience across the board.

Our Pick: Meade 40, Hodgeman County 20 (Nicholl)

The Pick List:

Lawrence at 6A No. 4 Olathe West – Olathe West

Dodge City at Junction City – Junction City

Shawnee Mission Northwest at Olathe North – SM Northwest

4A No. 3 St. James Academy at Blue Valley – St. James

Washburn Rural at De Soto Washburn Rural

Wichita East at 5A No. 3 Kapaun Mt. Carmel – Kapaun Mt. Carmel

Wichita Heights at 6A No. 5 Wichita Northwest – Wichita Northwest

Blue Valley Southwest at 4A No. 1 Bishop Miege – Bishop Miege

Pittsburg at 4A No. 5 Chanute – Chanute

Bishop Ward at 1A No. 3 Olpe – Olpe

Cheney at Garden Plain – Cheney

Hesston at Pratt – Pratt

Sabetha at 3A No. 4 Holton – Holton

Atchison County at Jefferson Co. North – Jeff Co. North

Caney Valley at Humboldt – Humboldt

Conway Springs at 2A No. 3 Kingman Kingman

2A No. 1 Southeast of Saline at Beloit SE of Saline

Sedgwick at 1A No. 4 Inman Inman

Atwood-Rawlins Co. at Dighton – Dighton

8M-II No. 2 Canton-Galva at Goessel – Canton-Galva

La Crosse at 8M-II No. 4 Victoria – Victoria

8M-I No. 2 Chase County at Colony-Crest – Chase County

WaKeeney-Trego at Hill City – Hill City

Ingalls at Triplains-Brewster – Triplains-Brewster

Natoma at 6M No. 1 Cunningham – Cunningham

6M No. 2 Northern Valley at Tescott – Northern Valley


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